Do We Have The Courage To Learn From Larry Nassar? Lesson #1.

Editor’s note: This blog post took me darn near a week to write, with five rewrites. Not five sets of revisions or edits…five rewrites. For those of you who don’t know me well, my usual process is INSPIRATION (I see, hear or think of something that would be meaningful or valuable for you to know); NOODLING (The idea may percolate in my head for a day or two. Don’t disregard this step. Writing about child sexual abuse is hard and I consider it a small miracle that you read my stuff each month!); WRITE; EDIT; SEND. But, not this time.   

Once you start reading, I think you’ll understand why I had such a hard time. But what’s most important is that, by the end of this post, you will have learned something new and are inspired and empowered enough to put it into action.

CHILD USA, a national think tank for child protection, created The Game Over Commission to Protect Youth Athletes to answer the solitary question:

How could every institution and person who should have protected girls from Larry Nassar fail so miserably?

Fair question.

And one that needs to be answered honestly and thoroughly if we have any hope of preventing such tragedy from happening again. By drilling down to the core of this one series of crimes and failings, the Commission is able instigate changes in the broken systems that allowed one man to harm so many.

The Commission released its 128-page “Case-Study of Systemic Abuse in Sports Perpetrated by Larry Nassar,” and the findings come with strong recommendations that span the Olympic movement, law enforcement, medical licensing boards and amateur youth sports organizations.

But the report also contains many lessons for folks like you and me. Each week, I’m going to break down a lesson learned, so maybe…just maybe we don’t have another generation of 500 young girls sexually abused by one person.

Larry Nassar taught us a lot about child sexual abuse in amateur youth sports.  A lot. The big question is…are we going to step through our discomfort to learn the lessons?

As one of the largest sexual abuse cases in sports history, it is so massive and complex that it’s really easy for us to slip into, “that wouldn’t happen here.”  But you see…it can.  Because when you break it all the way down, this is what we have:

A child athlete, competing at both the rec and elite levels, was sexually abused by a staff person who this child, their family, and their gym owners and staff trusted.

If you think that can’t happen at your sports organization or at the sports organization where your child competes…I dare say, you are wrong.

We know that 1 in 10 children are sexually abused by their 18th birthday.  We also know that 90% of these children are abused by someone they know, love and trust.

Think about a sports team or program. Any sports team or program. And then do the math.


Larry Nassar was an osteopathic physician with a sub-specialty in sports medicine. While he was the team doctor for the USA Gymnastics (USAG) National Team and Michigan State University’s (MSU) women’s gymnastics team, he sexually abused upwards of 500 girls over two decades under the guise of giving them examinations or medical treatment for athletic injuries.

The Commission’s timeline identifies allegations of child sexual abuse by Nassar going back to 1992 (a year before he even graduated from medical school). These allegations appear to be the first of at least SEVEN times children reported being sexually abused by Larry Nassar or parents complained about his ‘medical treatments’ and nothing was done.

I’m sorry…’nothing was done’ is not completely accurate.  Sometimes nothing was done, but other times leadership actively worked to cover up the allegations.

In my trainings, I spend a lot of time talking about the predator’s process before the abuse ever happens. It’s called ‘grooming’ and it can take months…even years. It is, essentially, master manipulation to gain the trust of the victim, their family and their community. It is also a time to start normalizing inappropriate sexual behavior.

Larry Nassar was good at it.

He was counting on his behavior being overlooked or excused because of the stature he had created for himself in the gymnastics world and that’s exactly what happened…even during numerous police interviews.

Don’t act surprised…happens all the time.  Jerry Sandusky, a priest, the boy scout leader who everyone loves or everyone’s favorite coach.

But in 2016, the Indianapolis Star’s investigative team gathered enough information and evidence against Larry Nassar, that he could no longer hide behind his titles, affiliations and comforting demeanor. Nassar was ultimately arrested, charged, convicted of multiple federal crimes and sentenced to a minimum of 175 years in prison.

The Commission concluded that systemic, institutional failures left girls at extreme risk of sexual abuse. While the Commission’s findings and recommendations are fairly ‘high-level,’ I want to once again wipe away any notion of ‘that kind of thing would never happen here’ by reminding you that when you peal back the layers of fancy titles and national organizations, you still end up with:

A child athlete, competing at both the rec and elite levels, was sexually abused by a staff person who this child, their family, and their gym owners and staff trusted.

If I had to bring you one message from this 128-page-gut-wrenching-report, it would be:

Child protection must be consistent and constant. No matter what. No matter who.

We must move away from the idea of protecting our children against a certain person or a certain type of person and move toward child protection practices becoming a consistent, constant and normal part of our lives. This way, when a child discloses abuse or an adult is uncomfortable with someone’s behavior, we don’t have to make a personal judgement call whether this person could ever do anything like that.

It’s nearly impossible to think of someone we know, love or trust harming a child in this way, so silencing the child too often becomes the response. Intentionally or not.

What I’m saying is…90% of children who are sexually abused are abused by someone they know, love or trust, which means, if a child discloses abuse to you, there is a high probability that you will know the alleged perpetrator. And, if they are any good at the grooming process, you will probably think highly of and like them.

Child sexual abuse prevention is fairly simple, meaning it’s not complex or complicated; but it is far from easy. It’s very uncomfortable, even scary. But that cannot stand in our way.

Do what you need to do to walk through this discomfort and fear – child sexual abuse prevention and response training for staff and parents, educating and empowering athletes, policies & procedures, and hiring practices – to name a few

We – THE ADULTS – need to be more courageous, more willing to shatter the silence and shame, more willing to do differently…do better.

When you’re ready, please let me know how I can help you, your family, your organization or your community take the necessary steps to protect our children.